“We figure out what we know. And then we figure out where our contribution lies."
Sruti Patoori came to City College in 2013 and was immediately received by a supportive and diverse community. She graduated from Rutgers University, where she majored in genetics and minored in evolutionary anthropology. Through her work in Dr. Emerson’s lab, Sruti is able to continue pursuing her passion for biology through research.
Her “obsession” (as she calls it) with biology and DNA started young, and she credits her collection of National Geographic magazines as fuel for that obsession. One particular NatGeo issue, “The Journey of Man” was her first introduction to evolutionary genetics. She was particularly fascinated by the idea of being able to trace where we came from, and found inspiration in the story of the Y chromosome Adam and the Mitochondrial Eve. “It’s fascinating that all of our history is already in our DNA,” says Sruti.
Currently, Sruti studies retinal development in vertebrates in Dr. Emerson’s lab. She focuses on photoreceptor cells in the outer retina, and how they come to develop from progenitor cells. Part of her research is characterizing the early development of the retina in squirrels, a species she finds particularly interesting to work with because of their diurnality. A big part of her duty as a researcher is keeping up with research that’s been published already, which motivates her to understand her role as a contributor. “We figure out what we know. And then we figure out where our contribution lies. What part of the story are we filling in?” she says.
Throughout her time at City College, Sruti has also dedicated time to empowering her fellow female peers. She’s been a part of CCNY Women in Science (WinS) for four years, participating on the board and most recently being the Events Coordinator for the organization. She prepared and hosted workshops to help her peers succeed in the professional world. Sruti is also part of the team advocating for lactation room accommodations on campus. Aside from her role as WinS Events Coordinator, Sruti has also served as a TA for two undergraduate courses; Biological Foundations 1 and Genetics.
Coming from Rutgers, where the Genetics department faculty was mostly white men, she was grateful and positively shocked by the number of women professors and peers in CCNY’s Biology Ph.D. program. “I don’t think I had a single Indian professor but when I came here, my first two professors were Indian women, and that was important to me. I liked seeing that.” She recalls a time where she once had to intentionally mispronounce her name to make it easier on her peers around her. She found comfort on her first day when Dr. Shubha Govind pronounced her name correctly without missing a beat.
City College’s diversity is one of the main reasons she credits her environment as motivation. She feels constantly inspired by what her peers are accomplishing in the CDI building, where she spends most of her time. One major perk of the CDI building, she comments, is its open floor plan, which fosters a sense of community for the PhD students. “You’re constantly surrounded by something that’s brand new,” she says. “It’s fun being able to know what other people are doing.”
As someone who spends most of her day in the lab, Sruti reflects that disappointment is par for the course. However, that makes the satisfaction of an experiment gone right so much better for her. This is what she prompts other students to search for as well: satisfaction and happiness in whatever they choose to do. Sruti earned her PhD this past spring 2020 semester and hopes to continue her research in a postdoctoral research position.